Friday, March 05, 2004

Last night I went out with Michael for dinner. I ate, he paid (much to my feigned refusal). We chatted for some time and I learned two things about him of exceptional note: 1) he is 193 centimeters tall, that is 6 feet 6 inches! and 2) he is "outstanding."

"No really, I am," he affirmed. This topic came about because he first told me that he thought I was unusual. "Very unusual. I haven't met any foreigners who like jiao zi," he said. "I love jiao zi. My mother used to make very good jiao zi," I told him. "You have some Chinese thinking," he concluded, "very unusual." I then heaped garlic and red pepper into my dipping sauce. "You like this?! Foreigners don't like spices! They like plain food only!" he said, "hm, yes, very unusual." Tired of being scrutinized, I looked at him at said, "You're very unusual, too. You are not like other Chinese people I know. And you are not like any of my students." He looked very proud of himself and that's when he declared, without the slightest trace of condescension, arrogance, or exaggeration, "Yes, I am outstanding." He works hard at it, he informed me. He went on to tell me that believeing in your own outstandingness is the only way to succeed in life (ironically, my mother says exactly the same thing and that's not Chinese--the longer I stay here the more I see that my mother is truly exceptional). Then he listed a number of other outstanding attributes including taking first prize in the schoolwide English speech contest, without proper training, AGAINST all the English majors. "I know I'm the best student in the school," he said matter-of-factly and with very good humor.

Michael is also very popular. During the course of my meal and the walk home he bumped into at least half a dozen people he knew. I mentioned it and he said, "well, yes, I'm very tall."

I'm afraid only my Boston friends would get this comparison, but if you took all the defining qualities of Myles and combined them with Komla's, take away the philosophy angle and put a Chinese face on it, Michael is what you'd end up with.

Canuck knocked on my door five minutes after I got back from dinner. "I'm fucking pissed," he declared using the British/Commonwealth meaning of the word. "No shit," I said to the staggering, head rolling man whose pores were releasing Tsingtao beer. "Today's my birthday," he announced, "let's go get a beer." We went down to the local restaurant where you can get a liter bottle of Tsingtao beer for 2 kuai (24 cents). I snacked on pumpkin fries--my new favorite--while I listened to him ramble. The beer in front of him was his fourth in two hours. "You're the only one in the restaurant who can understand me," he slurred. "I want a woman," he yelled out, "but no dogs!" The other patrons looked at us in a very polite Chinese under-my-breath kind of way, and we laughed. "See?! No one understands." We finished our beers, I headed home and Canuck went out into the night in search of a haircut. (Some of you hip to the Chinese way might catch on that more than a cut can be rendered at a hair salon, especially late at night. Canuck, however, really was looking for a haircut and I heard him go up the stairs just a few minutes after I came home, having failed in his search.)

Something I ate that evening came back to haunt me in the middle of the night and by morning I was in no mood to even attempt to teach anything to my students. My first class consisted of a writing game where each student takes out a piece of paper, writes two sentences, the beginning of a story, then folds the sheet over leaving only the second sentence in view. They pass the sheet around the room, each student adding a sentence based on the one seen and by the time it reaches the original author, a silly story is created. Little is gained from this exercise, save for a couple of giggles and lots of time wasting. The activity worked remarkably well, I did practically nothing AND it took up almost the entire class time. My second class did the same activity, which they managed to fuck up as many of the students suffer from I-know-everything-so-I-don't-have-to-listen-to-anything syndrome, and we did a listening exercise with the Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye." My intro to this activity included a bit about the band and one girl knew who John Lennon was. "What happened to him?" I asked. "Dead," she accurately stated. "How did he die?" I pressed. Whispering. "Anyone?" I pleaded. More whispering. "He got very ill," one person ventured. "Suicide," another guessed. One guy in the back who never opens his mouth made an effort to speak. "Alan?" I coaxed. "Accident," he said in a way that sounded more like "acid trip." "What?" I queried. "Accident. Car accident," he managed to let tumble. Most of the kids are my sister's age, and I know it's Communist China, but really, the Beatles are the grand pubas of the "pop" that my students are always raving about (in a way that make ME feel very old). "No, no, no," I said disappointed, "c'mon guys, this is history. John Lennon was killed by a fan. He was shot. It was a very sad day in America. You need to know this. It was December 8, 1980, to be exact." Eyes started to roll back into their more familiar housings and I started the activity for fear of losing them. Afterward I asked the class what they thought of the song. "Very boring," said one of my more eager students. "We want a love song next time."

It is in this second class that I have the three dissident girls. Each one of them came up to me at break, meekly apologized for their behavior in the previous class, and two of the three turned the "special homework" I assigned. The other girl, in lieu of said assigned "special homework," gave me a two-page hand-written letter explaining her "not politeness behavior" came from a lack of understanding "because you are foreign." (Yeah, I'm sure she'd pull this shit on one of her Chinese teachers.) There was also a thick layer of ass-kissing in the letter ("you're pronunciation is so good, just like tape," "I know you are serious teacher") and I was about to re-assign her the task, but realized she probably put more time and effort into it than the other two who both asked to learn more about Disneyland.

My new approach to lesson planning is more games, more music, more pronunciation (their pronunciation is GOD AWFUL, as Canuck put it after sitting in on one of my classes) and fuck the grammar. The students who care will make an effort and the others will leave me with more time to watch bootlegged DVDs in my palatial "foreign expert" digs. Not that I'm getting cynical, but I think that's just the way things work. No point in killing myself when good enough is just that.

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